OUTDOORS: Three new members appointed to state Fish and Wildlife Commission after lengthy wait

With members of the state Senate and House of Representatives holding his proverbial feet to the fire with bills that could potentially reform the state Fish and Wildlife Commission, Gov. Jay Inslee has appointed three new members to fill open positions on the committee.

“We’re making things happen here in the Legislature,” said Sen. Kevin Van De Wege (D-Sequim) during a public hearing Wednesday on Senate Bills 5656, 5661 and 5721.

Only a day before Inslee filled three positions, including two long-term absences on the commission, which is supposed to be a nine-member panel that sets policy for the Department of Fish and Wildlife.

One spot representing Eastern Washington was open for nearly 500 days. Another, held by outgoing board chair Larry Carpenter, remained open for a whole year while Carpenter stayed on. And a third at-large spot opened in December after a resignation.

The new members were lauded by environmental rights groups for their backgrounds in science and environmental policy.

John Lehmkuhl, a former research wildlife biologist with the U.S. Forest Service from Chelan County who has also served on Fish and Wildlife’s Wildlife Diversity Advisory Council since 2015, fills a vacant Eastern Washington position.

Lehmkuhl described himself as “a lifelong hunter, angler and conservationist” and said he “looks forward to joining other dedicated commissioners to promote our common goal of maintaining healthy and diverse fish and wildlife populations in the state.”

Melanie Rowland, an environmental attorney from Okanogan County who previously worked for the National Marine Fisheries Service Office of General Counsel to implement the Endangered Species Act for salmonids and marine mammals in the Northwest, fills one of the at-large positions.

Rowland mentioned the challenges of conserving fish and wildlife populations amidst climate change and development pressures, but also said she was “eager to help guide WDFW in conservation and providing sustainable recreational opportunities like fishing, hunting and wildlife watching.”

Tim Ragen, a former executive director of the U.S. Marine Mammal Commission from Skagit County, will fill the Western Washington position previously held by commission chair Larry Carpenter, also of Skagit County.

Ragen said he “fully recognizes that the commission’s decisions affect the well-being and livelihood of Washington residents.”

An initial analysis of the new members leads one to believe the commission will continue in a more conservation-minded manner, hopefully one that keeps the promotion of recreation, angling and hunting nearer to the foreground than in recent years.

Commissioners are appointed to six-year terms; appointees are subject to confirmation by the state Senate, which is currently in session. However, members are official upon appointment and serve as voting members on the commission while awaiting Senate confirmation.

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Sports reporter Michael Carman can be contacted at 360-406-0674 or [email protected] news.com.

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